Tuberculosis is an infectious disease in bovines that occurs all over the world. It is mainly spread through the air. This bacterium can be transmitted from animals to humans (zoonosis). The Netherlands has been officially tuberculosis-free since 1999. Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) conducts research into this disease.

Tuberculosis is a chronic disease in cattle that sometimes develops years after the infection. Usually the disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis). This bacterium can also infect humans and many other mammals. In addition to airborne spread, milk or manure can form a transmission route.

Tuberculosis is a notifiable disease in the Netherlands in both humans and domestic animals. Wageningen Bioveterinary Research is responsible for diagnostics in the Netherlands, conducts research into the disease and develops new diagnostic methods.

Tuberculosis infection

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium of the Mycobacterium genus. Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) causes tuberculosis in a wide range of mammals including ruminants. M. tuberculosis is the main cause of tuberculosis in humans.

M. bovis, together with M. tuberculosis, M. caprae, M. microti, and M. pinnipedii belongs to the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex which are zoonotic bacteria causing tuberculosis in animals and humans.

Clinical signs tuberculosis

There are no specific symptoms of tuberculosis infection in animals. The main symptom of tuberculosis disease in animals is weight loss without an apparent cause, not thriving, occasional fever and respiratory signs (coughing). In many cases, infected animals do not show symptoms following infection.

In humans, the disease is very similar to human tuberculosis caused by infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Spread of tuberculosis

The bacterium is mainly spread through the air. Transmission via milk or manure is also possible. Because many infected animals don’t show symptoms, tuberculosis often progresses unnoticed. As a result, the bacterium may be transmitted throughout a herd without being noticed.

Drinking raw milk (unpasteurised) may pose a risk of infection for humans, in areas where bovine tuberculosis is present.

In a number of countries, including the Netherlands, tuberculosis has effectively been eradicated in the farm animal population. This population has officially been tuberculosis-free in the Netherlands since 1999 (OTF status).

Diagnostics tuberculosis

Tuberculosis in animals and humans is notifiable in the Netherlands. Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) is the national reference laboratory for tuberculosis in animals, advises the government and has various immunological, bacteriological and molecular testing methods at its disposal.

We have research programs studying the disease and are developing new diagnostic methods.